During the politically charged 1980s it was fairly standard practice for indie and punk artists to accompany their releases with passionate essays decrying the state of the world. To take an obvious example, Crass LP sleeves would unfold to reveal themselves as multi-panelled collages, violently cut up artwork interspersed with anti-establishment polemic. It seems curious that in our current politically turbulent days, even as musicians have more avenues than ever to express their viewpoint on the world, this tendency of teaming music with explicitly stated ideas has largely drained away.
Mary Ocher, however, is bucking this trend. Her recently released fifth album The West Against the People comes with an essay of the same name, covering immigration, intersectionality, and the fear of the unknown. Much as its namesake album, the essay combines wit, thoughtfulness and anger as it comes to grips with the hypocrisies of the age -
“Interestingly,” she writes “it is often not the threat of the newcomer that is the cause of the rise in xenophobia, but rather the insecurities and paranoia ingrained in the host society itself…”
This essay provides some context for an album that slips and shifts from genre to genre, jumping between lo-fi post punk, stuttering, unsteady electro, and barely-there ambience. Ocher’s vocal delivery incorporates spoken word poetry, and moments of near operatic melody. It’s a record as schizophrenic and dramatic as the times it was produced in, shamelessly political and endlessly surprising.
It comes as little surprise that Ocher is similarly outspoken in conversation. When we caught up on Skype she was as happy talking about immigration policy in Germany as she was discussing her vision of working with an orchestra – it was a refreshing change from artists who are terrified of saying a thing for fear of offense, but as she pointed out midway through our chat – “The stuff that I grew up listening to as a teenager was pretty explicit and pretty violent and not self-censored at all…”
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